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The design and implementation of a short course, focusing on metacognition, to develop writing skills for university students for whom English is an additional language : an action research study


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Satariyan, A 2017 , 'The design and implementation of a short course, focusing on metacognition, to develop writing skills for university students for whom English is an additional language : an action research study', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The aim of this research was to design a constructively aligned short writing course for English as an additional language (EAL) learners, to encourage a perceived level of competence in writing academic assignments for their discipline. The course was designed and implemented through eight reflective action research cycles equaling eight teaching sessions. This also enabled me to reflect on and improve my pedagogical practices, along with improvements for the EAL participants’ writing skills.
Most EAL students spend many years of formal English instruction at school and/or language institutions. They, however, tend to lack proficiency in English language skills to complete written assignments with academic rigour, when English is the medium of instruction. The impetus for developing a short course for these EAL learners, therefore, was to support them academically and to implement change and improved practices in this area.
A reflective action research model was implemented within a class of four undergraduate EAL learners. Participants of the study were invited to attend eight teaching sessions. Each session was then considered as one action research cycle. Analysis of each cycle included four reflective steps – plan of action, implementation of action, observation and interpretation, and recommendations for future actions. All teaching sessions were based on an identified teaching or learning writing skill issue and participants’ need to reflect on and revise a plan of action to implement, and evaluate, to affect improvements for future actions/cycles.
The teaching sessions, with a focus on metacognitive strategies, were designed to provide information about academic writing skills applicable for these EAL students. The first three teaching sessions focused on brainstorming the essay question(s), the key features of an academic text (personal opinion and academic position), the difference between description and analysis and the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. The next three sessions focused on developing participants’ inductive and deductive thinking, including the importance of the student voice in assignments. The final two sessions included a greater emphasis on practical and concrete skills required to write academic assignments at university level.
The results from this study identified the need to develop a short writing course with some attention also given to improving EAL students’ metacognition. The course was developed in accordance with the principles of constructive alignment. This was to ensure that intended learning outcomes for the course were effective, clear and purposeful and that learning activities were developed in alignment with these outcomes. To examine the progress of participants’ learning their final written assignments were assessed using the SOLO Taxonomy framework. Changes in epistemological beliefs were also considered when examining the knowledge development of the participants during the course of intervention. The action plan implemented was effective in developing participants’ writing proficiency, along with gaining more sophisticated epistemological beliefs about the knowledge of writing skills over the eight teaching sessions/cycles. The shift in participants’ epistemological beliefs appeared to be related to the improved learning outcomes and the quality of their writing, which were assessed by the SOLO Taxonomy. This may have also contributed to the development in the quality of participants’ knowledge of writing skills.
The findings also showed that participants learn writing skills better in a more experiential and discovery-based approach, rather than focusing on the mechanics of writing (i.e. rules for punctuation, capitalisation, spelling, and grammar). A shift in participants’ epistemological beliefs, the development of their learning outcomes through the use of the SOLO Taxonomy, the quality of their final written assignment, and their perceptions concerning the teaching sessions provide supporting evidence for the effectiveness of the course.
The research findings contributed to both practical and theoretical aspects of the design and development of curricula for EAL writing courses. There are some elements of the course, for example, that can be applied to all EAL students in the similar context such as: teaching the concepts of academic voice and the structure organisation for written assignments.
The study appropriated a very demanding challenge in addressing the needs of EAL students, who received English instruction throughout their schooling, yet were still unable to write assignments to the expected standard. It seems that students have a very small amount of time available to undertake a supplementary bridging course. The design of this course, therefore, needed to attain in eight sessions what their schooling had been unable to achieve.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Satariyan, A
Keywords: English language teaching, course curriculum, epistemological belief of EAL students, writing skills, action research
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Copyright 2017 the author

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